Google+ for Android hands-on
When we downloaded Google+ from the Market, two icons appeared in the app tray: one that bears the same name as the service, and Huddle. Both took us to the same app, but Google+ put us on the program's home screen -- a portal that offers the Stream, Huddle, Photos, Circles, and Profile sections -- while the latter of the two icons bypassed this screen completely and started us in the Huddle service itself.
Huddle is the only service in the Google+ suite exclusively offered on the Android app. It uses the same style of messaging as we've come to expect with any standard IM client, and as a result it doesn't bring anything new to the table. It gives you the ability to chat it up with groups or individuals, and you can use other apps as you wait for a response since incoming messages will come in as a regular notification. If most of your friends use Google, this puts Huddle on par with your phone's messaging app. Sounds a lot like Google Talk, but the two services are unfortunately not integrated at all. And while Huddle's considerably mobile-friendly, there's no option to continue chats on your computer as soon as you get home; Huddle is nowhere to be seen on the Google+ home page, and no Chrome extensions or other browser add-ons have been made available for it yet. We'd love to see this get thrown in soon -- we're probably spoiled by our recent run-in with MightyText, but hey...
For the services that can be synced, however, we enjoyed a seamless experience between the app and computer. For instance, the app offers an Instant Upload option which does exactly as the name implies: immediately after a new picture is taken on your phone, the image gets pushed up to a private album, which will appear on Google+ and Picasa simultaneously. Following the upload, we went back to the computer and noticed an option to "share photos from your phone," with our picture sitting there waiting to be shared with everyone or certain circles. The downside? After trying the app out on multiple devices, we determined that uploaded images get downscaled in order to cut down on transfer time and data usage; our high-res photos appeared at a paltry 720x540 on Plus, and 2048x1536 on Picasa -- and it stayed the same when using cameras with varied resolutions.
You can also share your location, if desired. The Stream has three screen options that you can swipe left or right to view: your circles, seeing status posts from those in close proximity, and checking out incoming posts. You can view all of your photo albums and choose pictures to share with whichever circles you'd like, look at and edit your Google profile, and invite others into your circles.
The absence of the Hangout feature puzzled us. By leaving it out, it feels like we're missing out on the perfect way to take advantage of a phone's front-facing camera -- Of course, it wasn't until Android 2.3.4 that we enjoyed the same functionality for Google Talk on the Nexus S, so it may be something reserved merely for the latest and greatest OS revisions.
In all, the Google+ app does a commendable job of bringing the full web experience down to the mobile level, though we can tell the app isn't hitting its full potential by excluding Hangouts and neglecting to sync Huddle with our computers. The program is still under field test status, which means there are some minor bugs that need to be worked out before it's ready for the public -- not to mention a very small user base -- but our sneak peek was a resounding success otherwise. Now, if only we had a few friends to share it with...